This is a very personal story. I only tell it here because if it helps one person, then it was worth recounting in detail.
First let me tell you that I am 50 and have always been a glass half full kind of woman. I tend to be impatient and a "bull by the horns" person. My husband gets a kick out of telling people how I woke him from a dead sleep to announce that I was going to train and run a marathon while I was 40 pounds overweight and 42 years old. I had never been a runner, and yet he knew that I meant it and would do it. Even though he was rather annoyed at being woken, he knew I would do it, and he braced himself for the regimen and early hour alarms.
I am also seriously overly righteous at times and tend to view the world with Doris Day colored glasses. Integrity and honor mean something in this house, and I married a man that is both, and so much more. I have always tried to be empathetic and I take care of people in need and/or care about. I am NOT an angel and can be judgmental and demanding. Just ask my family and friends. I am hard on people and subsequently twice as hard on myself.
My story has many lessons from many perspectives, but the things I take from it were hard learned and traumatic to me and my family.
My husband worked as a Business Agent for a large and powerful union here, he had vision and moved to take the Local to a place that would be fair, reasonable, and run more like a business that provides the best labor force available. He wanted to train on the newest technologies and bring the membership into the 21st century, both politically and systemically. This is an old local, one of the oldest in the country with a rich history of families controlling the membership with nepotism, cronyism and harassment of the membership. The Union has changed over time and with a growing membership. It has unusual power simply because of its place in growing the city's coffers. My husband has been making his living through this Local for 30 years now. We had a good pension, medical care and mostly steady work over those 30 years.
My husband is smart and very personable, he knows what he is doing and can build bridges fairly and easily. He ran for the elected position of Business Agent because many in the membership asked him to run. We talked about it and discussed it with our family because we knew the hours would be long and life would be stressful. It was a family decision and we all decided that this was good for our family but more excitingly good for the future of the Union. He won the election overwhelmingly. He won 60% of the vote with 5 people running. We were thrilled and thought that the newly elected President was a good guy and would work with my husband to bring the Union into the future.
This position is on a three year term. We had a steady paycheck for the first time in my married life. I have stayed home with our children for many reasons, but the main one was that my daughter had some issues that needed my full attention if she were to have a happy life. So we really counted on this as our three years of a sure thing and we were happy. At least I was happy. My husband worked his ass off every single day. Even on vacation he would field calls and take care of business. But we all knew the score when we signed on, so we lived without him. Oh he was in our house, but inaccessible to us. He would get up at 4 am or 5 am and work until 10 or 11 at night. It was grueling and so, so stressful. So many complaints, lawsuits, angry labor, angry clients and plain old lunatics. My husband aged a lot before my eyes, he gained a lot of weight and was not easily relaxed, but he thought he was making real progress with systemic change that his election was based on. He became very involved in local politics and had influence when all the candidates he backed won except one. The Union had influence in city council, the Mayor's office, and state and business leaders were starting to respect and admire the direction in which the Union was moving. It was all good, except.... The old guard was still in place in levels of the union office, the monthly general meetings got more and more hostile, with the same few voices filling the hall every month. The President runs the meetings and he had another agenda that we did not agree with. He wanted to keep the Union the same as it had been. He thought my husband was a wimp at the negotiating table. He was beginning to take more and more power for himself at the monthly meetings where the entrenched families had packed the hall. If you are working, you have no voice at the membership meetings, simply because you can't be there. So it seems that more people that wanted to keep the old system would show up at the meetings and take over the agenda, passing votes to weaken the Business Agent's office.
Finally, my husband was feeling pinched in, he couldn't speak of some of the good work at the meetings because it was sensitive and could kill negotiations if word got out. The President started to use this as a way to attack him through mouth pieces in the meetings that were backed by old guard voices. It was all very coordinated and planned. People that backed my husband never showed up or if they showed up they were so overwhelmed by the haters that they felt unable to speak up. They were significantly outnumbered most times too.
Messaging was my husband's biggest problem, but he felt hemmed in by confidences that people in leadership can not break for reasons of integrity and/ or loss of headway. Rumors and whisper campaigns were rampant that he was inept and yet he brought in more business than they had ever previously had. The local was influential with city and state government and with other powerful unions. They were represented in committees and Governor's panels. Business and community leaders were having a growing respect for the local. Workshops and classes were offered to members to increase their knowledge and keep their skills competitive with the industry. It was exciting times and scary times for us personally.
I felt that I could not talk to anyone. People thought we made too much money and that my husband should not have any time at all to call his own. It got to the point that people started to say that they were paying him to go to Karate on Saturdays for an hour and wtf? It was workplace harassment to nth degree. I had retorted to my husband when he told me he had heard this assessment, that with that mindset they were paying him to fuck his wife too. It really pissed me off.
Then after the New Year it really began. The President and the Treasurer walked into my husband's office and asked for his resignation. They said that charges were going to be filed to impeach my husband and they would rather he not fracture the Local with a big stink and just resign. He asked them if this meant that they were recognizing cognizance of the charges and they replied yes. He came home devastated, and we spoke long and hard about it. In the end, he knew that the President and the Treasurer were coordinating his ouster and that their seat on the Executive Board could well sink him. We planned to fight it even though we knew we would most likely lose. His key was to disqualify the President and Treasurer's vote on the board because they had said they would recognize cognizance before charges were even filed. It was a clear case of prejudice against him.
He went to the Executive Board meeting called to hear charges and when he tried to disqualify the two from voting or sitting on his case, the President went off saying he was challenging the Executive Board hearing the case at all. He was so very Tea Bagger Republican about it all. So in the end they heard the case, they deliberated for a little and found him guilty of charges like rolling his eyes and making a smart ass remark about an order. The charges were so ridiculous as to almost be comical if they weren't taking away all pay and the office immediately after.
So we found ourselves unemployed and with few voices calling foul in the membership, we began trying to digest what had happened and where to go from here. I had always been one to fight injustice and lies as hard and as loudly as I can. I need to. It is a core belief for me.
I could't talk to anyone about it; all our friends were in the Local and I had cut myself off from them because I found that any mention of our personal life was raked over the coals as a another reason to hate us. If I mentioned that I had bought a new rug, it would get all over the Local and before it was done, it would be said that we had bought a new expensive rug and we were being paid too much. Or if I said something about my husband going to a meeting out of town, it soon became a vacation that they were paying for. It was very bad. We had friends in the membership, but everything seemed good to them, just the usual bitching and moaning about the BA, but nothing worth speaking up about.
Afterward we had many that apologized for not being more involved. It is very hard to hear this.
We had a good case to take to the International. We had a very winnable case, it was clear that this was a campaign for power. So clear as to embarrass the perpetrators just a little.
My husband didn't want to take the fight to the International. It meant not regaining all the lost wages we would be entitled to, it meant losing the job permanently, it meant admitting defeat. I started to feel numb all over.
I began to scroll through my phone's contacts endlessly looking for someone, anyone, to confide in. My husband and I were fighting all the time from stress and a basic disagreement about how to move forward. I couldn't think about them winning in any way. I began feeling helpless, and impotent. The frustration was exacerbated by everyone telling me it had to be my husband's decision in the end. Then I began to feel physically surreal, and I couldn't gather myself anymore. I am usually very calm during a crisis, insisting on brainstorming every scenario and walking it through in my mind or in discussion. I became unable to communicate clearly at all. We were on the freeway, taking my son to a school event when my husband told me he would not fight it anymore. That he couldn't. I began to protest and then cry, scrolling through my phone frantically looking through my contacts for anyone to talk to. I started to tell my husband I was going to call AAA for help. They would help me. He saw my state and even though I was being sarcastic, he took me for serious because I was hysterical, and he turned around and took us all home. That was when I started to feel like I was physically dying. My chest and stomach felt like someone was kicking me with steel toed boots.
This wasn't me. I was the stable rock everyone came to, even strangers felt compelled to tell me their story of misery and woe. I am the logical reasoning woman that has a deep emotional core. I could not think clearly and everything around me was surreal. What was happening to me? I was begging God to help me. I was hysterical and worried about everything all of a sudden. My children were in danger, my family was being attacked, anything could happen at any time and I could not cope. It was scary. My family was terrified, they had never seen anything like this in me. Ever. What the hell was going on? My husband was now in a second crisis. If he started to talk about the Local, or anyone in it, if he spoke of money at all, I got to the point of curling up yelling that I was dying. Please. Help. Me. He was frantic for me.
This is the back story of my personal journey and I will continue it in Part II. This is as much therapy for me as a way for me to share some lessons learned. First lesson, Unions have to be run as a Union and not as any one faction's personal pig. Second, the old days of union strong arming are OVER. You may win in the short term, but you will lose much more in the long term. It is stupid.
This is hard for me, and I have to take many breaks, but I hope someone can learn something from it. I know I have.